Silver Valley, Idaho
Every month or two I head over to the Silver Valley of north Idaho, about an hour east of where I live. With Wikipedia as a source, I can tell you that billions of ounces of silver as well as tons of zinc and lead have been hauled out of the ground there. While most of the mines are now defunct, the mining tradition lives on. North Idaho is still a hardscrabble place with a lot of poverty and unemployment and it’s a beautiful, mountainous area that I love intensely. Last summer I explored a road up one of the steep, narrow canyons outside of Wallace. It turned to gravel, got thinner, and wound past the big head frame of one of the biggest operations over there, owned by the Hecla mining company. Driving narrowed to a car’s width and the road kept winding upward past a few narrow, old frame houses tucked between the mountains — the kind of homes I associate with mining communities across the country. It finally became impassable, at least in my vehicle. After I turned around and inched back down, I noticed a woman sitting on a front porch. I stopped, thinking that she might be willing to fill me in on some local history. Turns out she had been born in the house right next door and even though she and her husband now live in California, she maintains this place and comes up every month if possible. Her husband — a man who resembled Art Garfunkel — confessed to being an astrophysicist at Stanford University. Certainly not what I expected to find in a narrow house next to a defunct mine up a north Idaho canyon.